Monday, February 22, 2010

Memorable Miri, Sarawak - 2009

We made our way to the East Malaysia this time, to the renowned ‘Land of the Hornbills’ a.k.a. Sarawak.

We chose Miri for two obvious reasons i.e. my hubby wanting to reunite with his long-lost friend, and me making a come back to the place where I used to grow up. Yup, I used to stay in Miri long, long time ago for only one and a half years. I was 2, if I‘m not mistaken, and was way too young to even remember anything about Miri. So here I was (again), with my beloved hubby and son setting our foot on this great Sarawak soil, wanting to explore the very best of Miri for the very first time.

Miri is the birthplace of Sarawak's and Malaysia's petroleum industry. My first impression of the city was that it was rather clean and well developed. One thing for sure, it has a very laidback lifestyle which I enjoyed most. Unlike the ever fast-paced energy in KL, Miri was so calming and peaceful.

It was raining and rather cold when our plane touched down at the Miri Airport but we were greeted with so much warmth by my hubby’s friend, Safizan a.k.a. Pijan. We were then invited to his house located somewhere in Miri Pujut Road, not so far from the Airport, to meet his whole family. I had a rather difficult time communicating with his family. They were speaking in a deep local Sarawakian dialect, which I tried to follow at first albeit with little success. But hey, we are Malaysians, aren’t we? And since I’m a fast leaner, I’d probably need only a few hours to understand them better… but just to ‘understand’ them… and not to speak to them in that same lingo :-). Trust me, it’s quite complicated.

We booked a room at Parkcity Everly Hotel, a tranquil beachfront hotel located at Jalan Temenggong Datuk Oyong Lawai. The hotel was really pleasant and they served great breakfasts too. Their Spaghetti Bolognese was so superb, we ordered the dish via the room service 3 times (if not more) all throughout our stay here. It’s nothing Sarawakian. It was just a normal western-style of Bolognese. But I think it must be the Sarawak pepper they dashed into the sauce that brought the whole aroma up and made us yearning for more :-).

From the many interesting places in Miri, The Canada Hill was the very first thing that grabbed our attention. It was the place where the first ever on-shore oil well was built in Malaysia. Being almost a century old now (since it was built in 1910), it serves as a landmark legacy to the petroleum history in Miri. This oil well is of course no longer in production now and has been declared as a protected historical site by the Sarawak Government. We took a cab up the hill to visit the oil well which is also known as ‘The Grand Old Lady’.

We also took the opportunity to snap a few pictures of the beautiful Miri town and its excellent views from the observatory platform. We could see the whole spread of Miri from one end to another and it was simply breathtaking, making it one of Miri’s must-see places.

We continued our tour to Lambir the next day with a visit to a Sarawak Longhouse. It was not too far from our hotel. It actually took us around 40 minutes to reach Lambir’s Rumah Panjang area. Quite frankly, the place was not as exotic as what I have pictured in my mind. It was a reconstructed Longhouse after the original one got burnt down just a few months back. Thank God our tour guide was very well-versed about the Longhouse as she explained almost every little thing about the history of the Longhouse as well as about the lifestyle of the Sarawak Natives i.e. the Ibans & the Bidayuhs (just to name a few).

The Longhouse we went to see was named after the Tuai Rumah (i.e. the Chieftain) himself, (Rumah Panjang Tuai Rumah Anak Linggie). All in all, I believed there were about 15 doors or more which meant at least there were about 15 families living there. That explains why they needed such a big Ruai (verandah), it was mainly for their kids to play, and the adults to have their catch up after a long day of work. Our guide showed us around the area, and we did enter a few houses to see the interior of the house. We were also greeted by a few of the residents. They were so humble, friendly and warm. I enjoyed very much sharing stories with them.

We met the Tuai Rumah’s wife (as the Tuai Rumah himself was out for a meeting). She then explained to me how the Pua Kumbu (a special made blanket with intricate Sarawak native designs) was made. It was a great tour indeed and after a lot of photo takings, we then made our way back to the hotel.

Now, let’s talk about their food. The local Sarawakian dishes were great and aplenty, but what I can personally say, it might be an acquired taste to some. At least, it was to me :-). We were invited to a dinner get-together at Safizan’s Uncle’s house in Senadin. To our astonishment, they had prepared a huge array of Sarawak-Malay delicacies for us to try out. The list of exotic dishes included the ever-popular Umai Ikan Tenggiri, Midin, Ulam-Ulam with Sarawak Cencaluk, Ikan Tongkol Bakar, Asam Mangga, Linut, Sweet Sour Prawn, Daging Kicap, Buah Tarap, Buah Dabai, Peach Pudding and many, many more. Surprisingly, some of them tasted so good to me because it was closer to a Malay style of cooking.

But there was one thing I can’t really help but not to swallow. It was the Linut. Linut is made from Sago flour that is simply mixed with hot water. It became so sticky it reminded me of glue. I can’t eat glue! My hubby tried it and he said it was OK. You have to eat them with Midin, a type of wild fern found only in Sarawak jungle that was cooked with some fresh chillies and Belacan (shrimp paste). Does that sound titillating enough? Nah... not for me :-).

The Sarawak Laksa was another acquired taste. We went to a night market in Sarberkas, and I had a taste of their Laksa Sarawak. The smell of the spices that they used in the Laksa gravy was too strong and it really turned me off. The smell could stay in your mouth for quite awhile. I had to pass the idea of indulging that so-called Sarawak specialty and ordered something more to my liking, like Satay :-).

Oh yes, in Sarberkas Night market, we came across many of the Sarawak local delicacies, and we had the chance to try some of them. The popular Ikan Terubuk Masin, Kuih Cincin and Sarawak Kek Batik (Layered Cake) were amongst our ‘shopping’ items we brought back as ‘knick-knacks’.

Bintang Plaza Shopping Complex was the place to shop for souvenirs. We have been told by the hotel staff that there is a Miri Handicraft Center in the city area, too bad we didn’t find it. But the one we found in Bintang Plaza was a great one. We didn’t know that they were on sale until the time we wanted to make our payment. All items were sold at a 50% discount!! We bought a couple of Dayak’s Wooden Shield miniature, Sarawak beads necklace, Sarawak Batik, fridge magnets (a lot of them), some Sarawak Pepper Candies, Sarawak table runners and placemats and T-shirts. Most of them were to be given away as souvenirs. I didn’t buy any of the Pua Kumbus (though I was so tempted to buy one) since I already have 3 pieces of them at home :-).

One thing I had in mind before leaving Miri was to see a sunset by their beautiful beaches. I read about Luak Bay and its magnificent sunset and I really wanted to experience my sunset there.

On the last day, before we flew back home, we made a stop at this very scenic Luak Bay. Thanks to Pijan and his dad who really made sure we had a good time there. It was almost 5.30pm when we arrived and as you already know, the night falls earlier in East Malaysia compared to the West. And by 6.30pm the blue skies of Luak Bay suddenly transformed into a passionately gold coloured landscape just when the sun set below the horizon. We were so beyond words at the time. The panorama was so stunning and picturesque we felt as though we were appreciating a painting on a hugely magnificent canvas. I was so happy to be there right on time to watch this beautiful scene. Just view my pictures down here and you would totally understand what I meant.

It was indeed a wonderful journey to Miri, but most of all it was the family who greeted us there and showed us the insides of Miri that made the whole journey so memorable and worthwhile to us. Our special thanks again to Safizan and his wonderful family members for their hospitality and generosity. No amount of words could best describe our sincere gratitude to the family.

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